The Red Sox once tried closer by committee and found out the hard way that while that’s sound in theory it isn’t manageable in reality in this market. Let’s hope the Sox aren’t repeating that miscalculation by adopting baseball operations decision-maker by committee.
The Sox made an inspired hire importing 36-year-old Chaim Bloom from the resource-deficient but resourceful Tampa Bay Rays. The Rays made the playoffs this past season with Major League Baseball’s lowest Opening Day payroll, while the Sox sat out the postseason with MLB’s highest. The Sox ventured outside of their organization and circle of influence to tap into another organization’s intellectual launch angle.
Bloom is the right man for the job at this juncture as the Sox seek a more cost-effective, sustainable model of contention than the one featured by Million Dollar Dave Dombrowski.
The biggest concern isn’t Bloom’s pedigree, age, or résumé. It’s that Bloom, bestowed with the technocratic title of chief baseball officer, isn’t being properly empowered like his predecessor as whatever you care to call the job customarily known as Red Sox GM. Is Bloom being empowered to put his stamp on the organization and implement his ideas and processes? Or does he sit as part of some sort of baseball politburo at Fenway Park with the quality quartet of holdovers in baseball ops that principal owner John Henry (you know what else he owns), chairman Tom Werner, and president and CEO Sam Kennedy professed their admiration for during Bloom’s introductory news conference last Monday?
Turning that Gang of Four into a Party of Five is not a recipe for success or sustainability. The buck has to stop with Bloom. If he’s going to be asked to own the decisions publicly then he should be making them. He has a challenging enough job trying to provide flexibility and depth to a roster that had too many overpriced, overaged, or underperforming players this past season without having his authority challenged.
The reality is that Bloom’s arrival has the feel of an arranged marriage. The Sox married the Gang of Four that ran the team following Dombrowski’s early September ouster — Brian O’Halloran, who has been promoted to GM, assistant GM Eddie Romero, assistant GM/analytics guru Zack Scott, and senior vice president of major and minor league operations Raquel Ferreira — together with Bloom in a wedding of collaborative convenience. They figured they’ll get to know whether they’re meant to be together later.
“We have been very open that we hold existing baseball ops in very high regard, but we’ve also made it clear that Chaim is in charge,” said Kennedy. “Our hope and our goal is that the group will work very well together. But you never know until you get into things. Time will tell. We’ll only know as we get into the day to day.”
Henry said last Monday the team was enamored with the job the foursome did and wanted to find someone “who supplements them or can lead.” Supplementing and supervising aren’t the same job.
If the Gang of Four wants to go in one direction and Bloom wants to go in another, his voice and his vote should outweigh theirs. Otherwise, why is he here?
Collaborative sounds good on paper. Bloom was part of a collaborative approach with the Rays where he shared responsibility and authority with Erik Neander, Tampa Bay’s senior vice president of baseball operations. It’s part of what the Sox found attractive about the Yale alumnus. In an ideal world, the Sox end up with the best practices from their shop and that of a ceaselessly creative competitor.
But with too many voices “collaborative” can devolve into an unclear power structure or worse a power struggle.
Kennedy pledged that won’t be the case.
“We have that clear structure and reporting lines where Chaim is in charge of the department and will be making the final decisions,” Kennedy said.
Hopefully, everyone else in baseball ops sees it that way. This is too important and too complex an offseason for the Sox to be feeling out and figuring out how crucial decisions will be made while devising a path forward — and back below the luxury-tax threshold. There could be conflicts in a potential reset season.
Debate is healthy and helpful. But at the end of the day, it should be Chaim’s way or the highway. The job right now isn’t about institutional knowledge or World Series rings. It’s about forging the future at Fenway and figuring out who is part of it.
It was hard to judge by the introductory news conference whether the current baseball operations holdovers would be working for Bloom or whether he would be working for them.
It’s unusual that Bloom’s ostensible subordinates were allowed to interview him for the job of their boss. Their feedback and impressions were welcomed by Kennedy and ownership after a series of one-on-one meetings between them and Bloom during the interview process. It was like the old “Sox Appeal” dating show for front office folk. (Romero and O’Halloran already knew Bloom.)
“It was a little unusual,” acknowledged Kennedy. “But we felt it was really important from a culture perspective to ensure there was a chance for this baseball ops personnel to meet in advance with Chaim because we value their opinion, and we knew each of them would be a huge part of the operation and the leadership structure moving forward. So, we wanted to engage them as a part of the process.”
It’s apparent that the Sox wanted to get away from the more insular approach of Dombrowski and empower some of the talented folks they already employed in baseball operations. All roads led to Dombrowski during his tenure. Remember, the Sox’ original plan in hiring Dombrowski was to retain then-GM Ben Cherington with Dombrowski above him as president of baseball operations. Cherington balked and walked.
The pendulum can’t swing back too far in the other direction. There must be a chain of command and a commander in chief. Whatever new-age title Bloom has everyone should recognize he’s The Baseball Ops Boss.
The Sox got the right guy. Now, they just have to let him do the job.